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When a car dealer sells its car dealerships…

Stéphane Sertang
Ginion Group
Special series

For the second interview in the series, we spoke to Stéphane Sertang, Ginion Group’s owner. With 56 years of experience, Ginion Group is a Belgian family automotive business that has become a major player in the import and distribution of luxury cars and motorbikes in Belgium. 

Ginion Group, founded by Stéphane Sertang’s father-in-law, started as a distributor of petrol and the BMW brand. The group was taken over by Stéphane Sertang in 1998 who expanded the business by increasing the brand portfolio (Volvo, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Mini, BMW Motorrad, McLaren and Pinifarina) and geographical coverage. He is passionate about the automobile as an object but also as means of mobility and human innovation. 

The group recently sold part of its car dealerships to enable the launch of more sustainable activities through mobility and real estate projects.

1. A question we ask all our experts in this series: what are the main trends you see in the mobility sector?

During a trip to the United States in the 2010s, I realized that the trends in the automotive market would change with the arrival of internet sales and the smartphone. 

So I see 4 important trends in the mobility sector:

  1. Our awareness of the ecological impact of overconsumption on the environment. They were already talking about this in the United States in 2005 and following the crisis of 2007, the notion of ‘eco-economy’ also appeared. And these are two elements that had to be integrated by the car industry. 
  1. The notion of car sharing, which is sharing something instead of owning it. People are prepared to give up ownership of a vehicle in order to get rid of the constraints associated with it.
  1. The power of Artificial Intelligence. Before 2010 it was utopian to think that a car would ever drive itself. 
  1. Electrification, especially in cities. The electric car in the city pollutes less and if we add this trend to the other three, we are heading towards a more virtuous and responsible economy and society. 

I also think that the Belgian tax system can sometimes be seen as a restraint, but it’s also a lever for change. Belgium has always been a forerunner in mobility issues and we really have a flexible mindset on these subjects. In some countries, we are just starting to talk about leasing, whereas in Belgium we are already used to not owning our car. 

Finally, at European level, ESG standards are accelerating the greening of car fleets and forcing companies to ask themselves questions. 

2. What triggered the decision to sell your car dealerships? 

I love my job and have always been curious about how my work and the mobility sector would evolve. 

When I traveled to the United States, Dubai and China, I took part in seminars. And one day at a seminar, someone told me that 'my car dealer job was dead' but that I should see it as an opportunity. And that I had as much chance as a car dealer to become a mobility supplier than a car manufacturer. 

I discussed this with my collaborators and we decided that there was something to be done in the Belgian ecosystem where the company car is important. So we launched Ginion Mobility Solutions to develop a multi-modal system that offers adequate mobility for everyone. 

It is better to be a leader in change and we were one of the first automotive groups to make this shift. 

3. What steps did you have to take to move from selling cars to selling mobility?

As a car dealer, we have always been between two worlds, so it was necessary to split the group's activities into two areas to create Ginion Mobility Solutions. On the one hand, the group focuses on its leisure car business, on the other hand, Ginion Group works on developing innovative solutions so that everyone can access a qualitative and responsible life.

I needed the group to be more neutral and impartial to meet our customers' needs, so it was obvious that we had to separate from our brands, to be more independent and to free up funds to invest in our new services. 

The group now has several divisions:

  • A real estate division: urbanization has created a lot of problems, especially in rural areas with water drainage. At our level, we finance projects to rehabilitate existing areas that meet the needs of the community in a town or village. 
  • An energy division that goes back to the group's roots, where instead of distributing petrol, we manufacture, distribute and manage the maintenance of electric charging stations.  
  • A mobility division, where we support companies in transforming their car fleets and their car policies. It’s often easier to ask someone outside the company to make these changes.  
  • A leisure car division: it’s important for us to honor our roots and thus remain active in the leisure car sector, which for us represents much more than just a passion. It also allows us to preserve a cultural heritage through classic cars.

And the most important thing for me is the human adventure and that is why I have always put the human ingredient at the heart of the group. 

4. What were the main challenges you faced during this transition?

The main challenge was a human one because stopping what we have built over 20 years is not easy. We had to stop our partnerships with the brands and I had to convince my collaborators, my partners, the manufacturers, etc. that my choice was the right one. But the further I got, the more I was convinced that I was the right size to do it and that it was the right decision to make. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't continue with everyone with the divestment of some activities and saying goodbye to my employees was difficult. 

But I also attracted other talents like consultants who joined the project because they really believe in our mobility offer. 

5. What advice would you give to other car dealers who want to develop new services?

To believe in their strength. I am convinced that when you are passionate about a job or a project, you can succeed.

You also need to surround yourself with the right partners and create a real team spirit. And sometimes the talent we need for these new services does not necessarily come from the automotive sector. 

And finally, not to be afraid of changing your brand image. At the moment, when you fly, you don't look at the brand of the plane but at the reputation of the airline. I've been told I won't be 'BMW' any more, but the image of the group gives us credibility in the mobility sector. 

Finally, I think that there is a dynamic in the BeLux market and that the car dealership sector is moving forward and innovating. For example, with D'Ieteren we share the same vision on mobility projects. I am optimistic about the future of the sector and that at our level we can influence other European countries.

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